I started with "Selective Trout" because of the scientific approach that Doug Swisher and Carl Richards gives. These are some nice illustrations by Dave Whitlock that shows how certain insects emerge.They also produced a book called "Emergers" which focuses on strictly aquatic insects. I might suggest focusing on our local population of bugs and go from there. No reason learning about the eastern green drake if you will never have to identify them. Another book is by Al Caucci is just called "Hatches" which is very detailed. Once you understand each classification of mayfly (burrowers, clingers, etc.)and then know the time each one emerges, you can really be specific on which bugs to carry in the flybox at any given time. Blue Wing Olive Mayflies are really the only ones I carry all of the time. The rest are only in my box for a few months at most. For mayflies, focus on Blue winged Olives, Pale Morning Duns, March Browns, Green Drakes, Grey Drakes and Callibaetis. Caddisflies are easy to identify and since there are so many species, it is only necessary to have the right size and shade. The only few exceptions in Washington are the Grannom, October Caddis and Mothers Day Caddis. Stoneflies are simple, only 5 real varieties and that would be the Skwala, Golden, Yellow Sally, Salmonfly and Namora.
Don't worry about the latin stuff, it just confuses people.
My suggestion is to start with this season of summer and work on what is on the water right now. Go out on the river early in the morning and stay there until it is pitch black. You will have an oppertunity to see a complete day cycle. Right now is goofy because of high waters but there are still bugs. Later on in July/August you will notice certain bugs come off like clockwork, Mayflies around 11am to 1pm and Golden Stoneflies hatch on the banks at Dusk.
To really help yourself, collect and classify them at home. Use a mix of alcohol and water 50/50. Use water tight jars and when you think you have it down, throw it all away.
Also, this site can be a valuable resource if you have specific questions about a particular insect. I never had this kind of resource when I was learning, just books and shop guys. The shop guys weren't very helpful so must came from books. Just take the names I gave you and try to match them to a picture of the actual insect. Next time you are on the river, try to find one in adult form and one in nymphal form.
A must have is "Nymph Fishing for Larger Trout" by Charles Brooks. Not only about bugs, but great PRACTICAL bug stuff for both fishing and collecting on the water. Everyone who fishes for trout in moving water needs this book! Also get "Sierra Trout Guide" by Ralph Cutter from the Library. Wouldn't necessarily buy it if you live here (unless you really like it), but the bug section is definitely worth reading. Also go to his website www.flyline.com for great info on flies, and real life bugs. The articles section has some great writing on bugs (especially the stuff about "glitter bugs" and he is no-nonsense in fly selection, and every pattern he shows on the website is a winner. Seriously, the Brooks book will make you a better fisher.
You might try the pocket guides to western rivers or lakes. They have the bulk of what you need to know and can slip into your vest, so you can have them on hand. They have excellent pictures of the insects and there suggested imatations.
The swisher/richards books and western hatches are excellent references, very in depth, but dry reading material. I use my copies a lot, but the bulk of information and older pictures might make them a bit harder to start out with. I would say they are for the entomologicaly obsesed. (Chris, how bout a spell checker?)
I have a large collection of fly fishing books, including all listed here. They are all great books. But if I needed one book for a beginner on this subject I would pick up "Western Streamside Guide. By Dave Hughes" Its small, concise, great pictures, and covers all the hatches you will encounter, lake or stream. Plus fly patterns and techniques for using them. Do your fly fishing a favor and get this book! Oh, and by the way, I'm not Dave Hughes.:HAPPY
If you want to improve your performance on lakes, Fly Patterns for Stillwaters by Philip Rowley is the best book out there. Read it from cover to cover, especially the intro. It has a ton of good information in it!